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MOOC Meltdown
Two Steps Back for Online Education

An up-and-down year for MOOCs looks set to end on a down note as two promising initiatives were shut down this week after failing to live up to their expectations.

The first was the partnership between Udacity and San Jose State, which became one of the first schools to experiment with offering college credit for MOOCs. Despite wide support from the school administration, the tech sector and even California Governor Jerry Brown, the program quickly became controversial when the spring cohort performed dismally on end-of-semester tests, registering a pass rate of under 50 percent. Despite substantial improvements over the summer term, the university put the program on hold, and the program’s failure became a key talking point for MOOC critics. Now, the university is finally ready to end the partnership with Udacity altogether, though without abandoning the idea of MOOCs entirely. Inside Higher Ed reports:

The spring semester courses will be available to all students in the California State University System. San Jose State has reserved half of the seats in the statistics and programming courses for its own students. The courses will still be hosted on Udacity, but students will use Canvas, a learning management system created by Instructure, to communicate with instructors and take exams, said Clarissa Shen, Udacity’s vice president of strategic business and marketing. The MOOC provider will also collect data about how students engage with the courses. “So, no, not walking away,” Shen said in an email.

The courses will cost as much as any other course at San Jose State. Free versions of the five courses will also be available on Udacity’s website, where students can complete them for certificates.

The second setback came with edX, one of Udacity’s main competitors. Earlier this year, edX announced plans to improve the value proposition for their courses by matching students who completed courses with companies that were looking for employees with the skills taught in the course. Now, edX is abandoning the idea, citing a lack of interest from employers who, it seems, are still more interested in a formal credential than a MOOC certificate. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports:

In a pilot job-placement program, edX recruited 868 high-performing students from two computer-science MOOCs at the University of California at Berkeley. Based on their apparent strengths, edX tried matching them to a handful of technology companies, including Google, Amazon, and SAP. The vast majority of the students were from outside the United States, and many were working professionals.

But it didn’t pan out. Of those 868 students, only three landed job interviews. None was hired. The results of the pilot, which ran about a year ago, were not publicized, but some details were presented at the members’ meeting last month.

Neither of these stories is a crushing blow to MOOCs as a whole, but they still amount to a major setback to one of the more exciting innovations to hit higher-ed in years.

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  • Anthony

    Among the defining characteristics of any business enterprise is that it can fail and go out of business. MOOC’s are not done but must reevaluate both profitability and sustainability of model as reasonable alternative to interests laden traditional collegiate course organization and delivery.

  • rheddles2

    Creative destruction; the result of risk, uncertainty and profit.

  • Sunaina Roy

    I do not find anything wrong or controversial in this project. Little more time should have been given to see the results. In order to lend credibility to this initiative, I believe they should have got it accredited from a renowned source. could help understand the importance of lending credibility from a third source.

  • free_agent

    You write, “employers who, it seems, are still more interested in a formal credential than a MOOC certificate.”

    I remember reading, quite a while ago, that in regard to earnings, a high-school diploma was more valuable than a GED, despite that getting a GED required passing a stiff exam (and in those days, a high school diploma didn’t). It seemed that the problem was that getting a high-school diploma required that the student have the ability to sit through the regimentation that is four years of high-school classes, and that ability was valuable to employers.

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